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Modi seeks tech investments at Gujarat summit ahead of elections

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will roll out the red carpet for hundreds of domestic and foreign investors visiting his home state of Gujarat this week for a business event, in one of his last major efforts to draw investments before a re-election bid.

The Vibrant Gujarat Global Summit during Jan. 10-12 is expected to bring in around 100,000 visitors, including chief executives, business leaders, ministers and diplomats from 133 countries, in what organizers have dubbed as the biggest ever gathering at the biennial event which is in its 10th edition.

The list of foreign companies taking part include Microsoft (MSFT.O), Nasdaq (NDAQ.O), Alphabet’s (GOOGL.O) Google, Suzuki (7269.T) and Toyota (7203.T). Gautam Adani and Mukesh Ambani, Asia’s two richest people, and the chairman of salt-to-aviation conglomerate Tata Group, will be among the scores of top Indian executives in attendance.

Foreign investors have bet big on India since Modi came to power in 2014 – with the likes of Apple (AAPL.O), Samsung (005930.KS), Kia (000270.KS) and Airbus (AIR.PA) expanding operations. This, even as some executives say his protectionist policies for sectors such as digital payments, manufacturing and e-commerce often promote local businesses to the disadvantage of foreign ones.

For Modi and Gujarat officials, the summit will present a chance to attract investors to sectors such as chipmaking and electric vehicles manufacturing where India lags, with the prime minister set to hold closed-door meetings with many executives, state officials said.

It will be one of Modi’s last big attempts to assure investors about his business friendly policies and bolster India’s reputation as an investment destination, just months before the 2024 national elections, where he will fight for a third term and is widely expected to win.

U.S. companies “are factoring in that the current government will come back in power,” said Mukesh Aghi, President of trade group U.S.-India Strategic Partnership Forum which is leading its biggest ever delegation of 50-plus U.S. firms to the Gujarat summit.

“They are quietly de-risking from China, and so India, with its fast growing economy, becomes important,” added Aghi.

The event will be held in the state capital Gandhinagar at a sprawling convention centre managed by Leela Palace, an Indian luxury hotels group owned by Brookfield. Roads leading to the convention centre are being cleaned and repaired, with hoardings of Modi’s photos plastered across to promote Gujarat as an investment hotspot.

Gujarat has attracted roughly $34 billion in foreign investments between 2019 and 2023, the third highest among states after Maharashtra – home to financial capital Mumbai – and Karnataka, whose capital Bengaluru is India’s Silicon Valley.

Just like the earlier Vibrant Gujarat summits, hotel rooms are in short supply now and getting pricier.

Deeppreet Bindra, general manager at a hotel run by Marriott International (MAR.O) in Ahmedabad city, which is about 30 km away from Gandhinagar and where many of the summit visitors will be staying, said his daily room tariffs had surged to $420 a night, from the typical $150 a day.

Visitors though will have to largely skip alcohol as the state is one of India’s few that restricts public liquor sales, unless special government permits are obtained – something that has often irked executives working in the region.

Ahead of the event, Gujarat signed initial investment pacts worth $120 billion with more than 200 companies, including steelmaker ArcelorMittal’s local joint venture.

“We have mainly focused on traditional industries so far, but now we are also focusing on upcoming sectors such as semiconductors, electronics and EVs,” said Rahul Gupta of state agency Gujarat Industrial Development Corporation. Reuters

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